Groups accuse the Government of deliberately pursuing policies that keep child refugees away from their families
New report by Amnesty UK, Refugee Council and Save the Children finds UK policy on refugee family reunion is damaging the lives of children
13 January 2020
Important new research by Amnesty International UK, the Refugee Council and Save the Children finds that the UK Government's policy on refugee family reunion is damaging the lives of children in the UK, and the Government's justifications for the policy are unsubstantiated.
The three organisations published the 40-page Without my family: The impact of family separation on child refugees in the UK on Friday. You can read it here.
In the report, Amnesty International UK, the Refugee Council and Save the Children say that the UK Government's policy on refugee family reunion:
• prevents child refugees who have sought safety in the UK from being joined by their parents, brothers, or sisters;
• leaves the UK as the only EU country that refuses to grant child refugees the right to be reunited with even their closest family; and
• is directly at odds with national and international law, contravening the principle of the best interests of the child.
The groups accuse the Government of deliberately pursuing policies that keep child refugees away from their parents and in the care of local authorities, and they find that this has a devastating impact on the children and young people.
The report is based on first-hand testimonies from twelve children and young people aged 15 to 20, who were all under 18 at the time of making their asylum application in the UK. It details the various effects on the children of family separation, including constant anxiety, fear for their families' safety, and in some cases serious mental health consequences.
Thirty-one practitioners were also interviewed for the report, representing a range of professions including legal practitioners, social workers, residential workers, youth workers and policy advisers.
Amnesty International UK, the Refugee Council and Save the Children state: "This report highlights the severity of the impact of the UK Government's policy on the lives of child refugees, lives already beset by conflict, persecution and trauma. Yet, despite consistent challenges and calls for the UK to change these unfair rules, the Government remains absolute A refusal to permit the family members of such child to enter and remain in the United Kingdom may constitute a disproportionate breach of the right to respect for family life in its position to keep these families apart. Even when the basis of such a policy has been shown to be without evidence, the UK continues to keep child refugees far from their loved ones. Its policy relies on unfounded fears that to allow child refugees in the UK the right to be with their close family might incentivise other children who are fleeing conflict and persecution to make dangerous journeys to the UK. The UK ignored the challenges over this issue from NGOs, parliamentarians, the UN and the immigration judgements."
The groups call on the Government to take urgent steps to reverse its policy and replace it with an evidence-based approach that has the best interest of the child at its heart, and that is consistent with its commitments under international and regional law, as well as decisions from UK courts.
Maurice Wren, Chief Executive of the Refugee Council, said: "The UK's rules on refugee family reunion are a flagrant breach of the Government's legal obligations to act at all times in the best interests of the child. For many separated children, being reunited with family members is indisputably in their best interests, yet in the UK we choose to keep them apart for the inhumane reason that this might deter others from seeking safety and protection. Faced with the clear evidence in this report of the harm that enforced separation causes children, the Home Secretary should see reason and change these rules immediately."
Amnesty International UK's Director, Kate Allen, said: "The UK Government is deliberately and destructively preventing child refugees from being reunited with their families. A simple change to the UK Government's policy would transform the lives of these children and help ensure they grow up safe and secure with the people they most need and love. "
Save the Children UK's Daniela Reale called on the Government to change the rules so child refugees can be reunited with their loved ones, saying children have a right to be with their families and governments have an obligation to protect children.
In response to the report, a spokesperson for the Home Office told the Guardian: "We support the principle of family unity and have reunited over 27,000 family members in the last five years. However, we also believe that we must not create perverse incentives for people, particularly children, to be encouraged – or even forced – to leave their families and risk dangerous journeys hoping relatives can join them later. This plays into the hands of criminal gangs who exploit vulnerable people and goes against our safeguarding responsibilities."